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Alberta, Past and Present, Historical and Biographical
Vol 1 - Chapter XIII
Population, Aborigines, Indian Treaties and Immigration

We have seen in the earlier chapters that Alberta was in the possession of several tribes of Indians when the first white travellers reached its borders. The various tribes represented branches of the three great Indian families or linguistic groups as follows:

Algonquian, western division, comprising Blackfeet (Siksika), Bloods, (Kainah) , Peigans.
Algonquian, northern division, Crees, Plain Wood and Swampy.
Athapascan, comprising Chipewyans, Beavers, Yellowknives, Dogribs and Hares. The Sarcees (Sarsi) who belong to this stock are politically allied to the Blackfoot Confederacy.
Siouan, comprising Assiniboines or Stonies.

Other groups represented in the early history of the province are the Kutenai, the Iroquois, Gros Ventres or Atsina. The Iroquois were brought to the North Saskatchwan River by the North West Company about 1800.

The Blackfeet were the advance guard of the Algonquian emigration to the west. Mackenzie mentions them and says that about 1790 they occupied territory between the south and north Saskatchewan Rivers and were in slow migration toward the northwest encroaching on the Athapascans. This migration was deflected southward by the Crees, who having been joined with the Assiniboines, sought the plains westward to hunt the buffalo, hence the unrelenting hostility between the two confederacies of the west. The pressure of the Crees upon the Blackfeet drove the latter finally to the country south of the south branch of the Saskatchewan. Until they were placed on Reserves in 1877 they roamed from the Cypress Hills to the Rocky Mountains and southward to the Missouri River. The Crees pushed northward as well as southward until they came in contact with the Chipewyans and Slaves along the Churchill River and on the shores of Lake Athabasca. After they obtained firearms from the fur traders they were able to drive these tribes from their hunting and fishing grounds, but were forced back again, when the Chipewyans succeeded in securing arms. The Blackfeet quickly adapted themselves from the sedentary life of their ancestors to the roving life of buffalo hunters. Once established on the plains of Southern Alberta they held it against invasion from every side, from the Crows, Flatheads and Kutenai of Montana and Washington, from the Assiniboines of the Cypress Hills and Wood Mountains and from the Crees of the north. In their raids to the south they secured horses and became famous for great herds of fine horses. The horse made them formidable in war and successful in the chase. They dwelt in tepees shifting periodically from place to Place. They gave little attention to agriculture except the cultivation of P. species of tobacco and they gathered camas roots in the foothills. The three main divisions lived independently of each other. Each had its own head chief, council, and sun dance. They worshipped the sun and a supernatural being known as Napi or Old Man, a sort of secondary creator. They laid their dead in trees or in tepees on some prominent hill. They were restless, aggressive, and predatory people and were constantly at war with all their neighbors. Their general attitude towards the Hudson's Bay Company was always one of doubtful friendship.

The Crees were divided into Wood, Plain and Swampy Crees according to the nature of the locality in which they lived. The Plain and Wood Crees lived in Alberta, but the Swampy Crees lived east of Lake Winnipeg in the marshy regions around Hudson's Bay. The Crees were always closely associated with the Hudson's Bay Company and regular visitors to the Company's posts. They were employed as hunters, canoe men and guides. The Crees worshipped a being akin to the Old Man of the Blackfeet, called Wisukatcak. They buried their dead in shallow graves, covering the same with stones or earth. If the deceased were a warrior or medicine man of renown, his body was laid on a scaffold.

The Chipewyans, Slaves, Beavers, the Sarsi and other tribes of the Athapascan family have shown little coherence and less power of maintaining their own culture than either the Crees or Blackfeet. They have assimilated the customs and arts of all the surrounding tribes.

From the advent of the white men, the Indian population steadily declined. Mackenzie estimated the Blackfeet in 1790 at 2,300 warriors or 9,000 souls. The smallpox scourge killed off large numbers in 1780, 1838, 1845, 1858 and 1859. Many died of measles in 1864. Smallpox raged among them again in 1870. Added to these calamities were the ravages of intemperance caused by American traders. To the American trader the only good Indian was a dead Indian and consequently the murderous proclivities of these outlaws were responsible for the death of many of the Indian population, e. g., in 1873 American outlaws shot 23 Assiniboines near the Cypress hills as a pastime on the pretext of horse stealing. The Crees were estimated at about 15,000 when the fur traders entered the west about 1775. They have suffered terribly from smallpox especially in the outbreak of 1870.

When Canada took over the Hudson's Bay territory in 1870, one of the conditions of the surrender was that the Indian population would be justly and humanely dealt with. The people of Canada have sincerely and generously kept this pact. The Indian title to the lands of the plains and forests was recognized. Treaties were made with the various tribes, reserves were given for permanent residence and in lieu of the hunting privileges, food and money have been regularly supplied. Many of the Indians, of course, are self sustaining and have acquired the arts of agriculture and civilized life. As far as Alberta is concerned, the first Treaty made with the Indians was signed in 1876 at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt. This Treaty included the Indians of central Alberta, the Crees, Iroquois, Assiniboines and the few Chipewyans at Cold Lake. Treaty No. 7, was signed at Blackfoot Crossing in 1877. It included the three tribes of the Blackleet, the Sarsi and the Stonies. The last Treaty was signed with the Indians of Northern Alberta in 1899 and included the Crees and Beavers of the Peace River District.

It is difficult to ascertain the names of the first actual white settlers, outside of the fur traders and missionaries, who came to the Province. Some of the first settlers, like James Gibbons, of Edmonton, are still alive. Tom Clover, accompanied by two men, Love and McFarlane, and others in the same party, came to the Province in 1864, and discovered placer gold in the North Saskatchewan River a few miles below Edmonton. The place has ever since been known as Clover Bar. Gold had been observed by Dr. Hector in 1858. That same autumn a party of miners travelled from Idaho via the Columbia Valley, Simpson Pass, to the Bow River Valley, along the present Banff-Windermere Highway to the open plains where they found a great Indian trail, and following it arrived at Rocky Mountain House. Of this party of fifteen, only James Gibbons and Sam Livingstone permanently settled in the country. Livingstone finally settled in Calgary. Gibbons invented what is still known along the Saskatchewan and rivers of the North, as "The Grizzly," a simple apparatus for separating gold from the gravel of the river. By 1868 there were about fifty gold workers oil North Saskatchewan.

The extinguishment of the Indian title was the prelude to railroad construction, immigration and settlement. At the time of the transfer of the North-West to Canada, there were very few white settlers in Alberta. These were generally found close to the Hudson's Bay posts at Edmonton, Lac Ste. Anne and Chipewyan. They were mostly men who had retired from the Hudson's Bay service to engage in free trade or in agriculture. There were also settlements at St. Albert and Victoria, but the inhabitants were mostly half-breeds. A number of Manitoba half-breeds, dissatisfied with the turn of events in that Province after Riel's first rebellion, moved Westward. A few of the half-breed families on the Red River reached Alberta and settled oil Battle River, in what is known today as the Camrose District. The Laboucan and the Selvais settlements on the Battle River were founded in this way. There were also half-breed settlements at Buffalo Lake, St. Albert, Beaver Lake, Frog Lake, Lac La Biche and White Fish Lake.

As soon as the survey for the C. P. R. was begun, settlers began to find their way along the projected route. The first to arrive in Alberta settled in the Edmonton District in the expectation that the railway was to pass through or near the old trading post. In 1878 a number of settlers arrived at St. Albert from Peace River. Some of them, like the late William Gust of St. Albert, had spent several years washing gold from the gravels of the Peace River. The route of the C. P. R. was changed to cross the Rocky Mountains through the Kicking Horse Pass instead of through the Ye!lowhead Pass. Consequently settlement began to follow the new line. Medicine Hat, Silver City and Calgary began to grow in the early 'SOS. Silver City was so called on account of the supposed deposits of silver in the vicinity of Castle Mountain and rapidly surpassed Calgary. It grew in a few months into a city peopled with speculators and with prospectors from every mining camp from California to Alaska. Today the traveller on the Imperial Limited may have pointed out to him a scar or two on the mountain side or a few piles of weatherbeaten rubble that mark the location of the shadow city of those romantic days.

Shortly after the Mounted Police established Fort Macleod, farmers and ranchers began to take up land land in the vicinity of the post. The discovery of coal on the Belly River marked the beginning of Lethbridge. As soon as the C. P. R. was completed as far as Calgary, the trails to Edmonton and Macleod were improved and year by year the land along the trails was taken up and small settlements founded at various points. The stopping places formed centres around which the settlement thrived. Some of these places like Red Deer Crossing, Battle River Crossing north of Calgary and 1-ugh River, south of Calgary have grown into important points. With the construction of the railway north and south of Calgary, the settlement of the country became a reality. A steady stream of immigrants from Manitoba, Eastern Canada, British Isles, the United States and Central Europe set in and has continued ever since. In 1883 Calgary was a settlement of 300 people. At Morleyville on the C. P. R. west of Calgary there was a settlement of sixty people. On the trail from Calgary to Macleod there were two small settlements, viz., High River with fifty people and Willow Creek with twenty-five. Beyond Macleod at Pincher Creek there was another important settlement of eighty people and several ranches.

The first homestead patent in the North West Territories was issued to Thomas McKay of Prince Albert in April, 1883. On the completion of the C. P. R. north to Prince Albert from Regina and from Calgary to Edmonton, the Land Department of the railway company began an active campaign to attract settlers to the North-West, from Dakota and Washington territory. One of the first settlements in the country south of Lethbridge was that of sixty Mormon families from Utah who settled at Lee's Creek in 1887 and founded the Cardston district named after one of the principal settlers. By 1891 this colony had increased to 1,000 souls owning 23,000 head of cattle and 9,000 sheep. Since that time it has developed into one of the most prosperous and Populous districts in Alberta. In 1887 the Canadian Agricultural and Coal Co. of which Sir John Lister- Kaye was president, established a number of large and well equipped ranches and farms along the C. P. R. at Bantry, Namaka and Langdon.

After the rebellion of 1885 many settlers entered Alberta by way of Saskatoon and Battleford taking up land in the Sturgeon Valley north of Edmonton in 1886 and 1887. The next year a number of German families settled in the country west of Red Deer in Township 36, Ranges 2 and 3 west of the 5th Meridian, and in 1889 a large German immigration settled at Dunmore, Gleichen, Seven Persons and Josephsburg. A year or two later over 200 of these families moved northward and settled in the Stony Plain and Beaver Hills districts west and east of Edmonton.

The years 1891 and '92 witnessed the real beginning of immigration to Alberta. Eighty-five families of Austrians and Germans settled in the Stony Plain district. A land office was opened in Red Deer and during that summer 406 homestead entries were made. Forty-five families of Germans from Austria and Russia settled at Fort Saskatchewan, sixty families of German Baptists from South Russia settled southwest of Edmonton at Rabbit Hills and thirty-five families of Germans settled at Wetaskiwin in the same year. The next year thirty families of German Baptists from Russia settled in two townships around Leduc.

The territory between Edmonton and Calgary became the favorite area for settlement. In 1892, 3,134 settlers took up land along the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, 984 being from Eastern Canada, 620 from the United States and 220 from the British Isles.

Through the efforts of Bishop Grandin and Rev. Father Morin a large number of French Canadian settlers were attracted to Northern Alberta in the early '90s. This was part of a larger policy of the leaders of the French Canadians and the Roman Catholic Church in the West to place a sufficient number of settlers of that nationality and religion, in order to maintain the minority rights respecting the French language and the Catholic religion. Most of these settlers came from the old Province of Quebec. A few were repatriated French-Canadians and their Sons from the United States. The first party arrived at Calgary in March, 1891, destined for St. Albert. They proceeded by sleighs to Red Deer, refusing to pay 840 per car to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company for transporting their effects to the end of the steel, then at Red Deer. Here they were met by numerous sleighs sent by their compatriots at St. Albert to fetch the newcomers to their destination. By 1894 this was one of the most populous colonies in Alberta, comprising over 1,000 souls between St. Albert and Morinville. Other French-Canadian colonies were established in these years at Stony Plain, Sandy Lake, Granger, Vegrevifle, St. Pierre (now Villeneuve) and Beaumont, making in all about 2,000 of a French-Canadian population at various points in Northern Alberta, owning 12,000 head of stock. Among these people were a number of settlers who had come from Belgium.
In May, 1892, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company offered for sale the odd numbered sections in the townships around Edmonton at prices from $3 to 815 per acre. This attracted a great many settlers. One firm in Edmonton sold 10,000 acres in two weeks. Land offices were opened at Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer by the Company and many settlers were brought in from the Palouse country in the State of Washington and from Dakota, attracted by the prospects of mixed farming in the Edmonton district. Swedish homesteaders settled around Red Deer and south of the Battle River and many newcomers from Nebraska found homes in the vicinity of Olds. In the same year about sixty families from Parry Sound, Ontario, settled at Agricola and Partridge Hills and Edna in the country east of Edmonton; other settlements of this time included the Moravians at Bruderheim and Bruderfeldt and Scandinavians at Wetaskiwin and Camrose.

One of the most important of the foreign colonies to be established in Alberta consisted of a large immigration from Russia, Galicia and Bukowina. The movement of these people to Canada began in 1896. They settled in different parts of the North West Territories, but a great many came to Alberta, settling in a very fine agricultural district stretching from Fort Saskatchewan to Vermilion. These settlers were devoted to agriculture and made excellent progress in wealth and education. The census of 1916 showed there were 14,733 classed as Russians, 11,372 as Austrians, 9,389 as Galicians and 4,460 as Bukowinians in the Province of Alberta.

A most unique enterprise in the colonization of Alberta was the migration of nearly 2,000 people from England to the district now known as Lloydrninster between the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1903. This colony was organized by Rev. I. M. Barr and was for many years known as the Barr colony and also by the terms The All British Colony or sometimes The Britannia Colony with the town of Lloydminster as its capital. When it arrived at Halifax the colony comprised 1,964 souls. It took thirty cars to transport their baggage. They proceeded by rail to Saskatoon. The long trail overland to their homesteads was the most difficult and trying part of their journey. Mr. Barr deserted the colony before it was established but an able leader was found in the Rev. George E. Lloyd. With a committee of twelve good men homesteads were allotted to the heads of families and after many vicissitudes they succeeded in establishing the colony. Though many of these people were ill adapted to the pioneering life of the plains and though suffering attended their efforts to build homes in a new land, they have succeeded in founding one of the best settlements in Western Canada. They excel in the production of grain and live stock, a tribute to the resources of the district and to the adaptability and pluck of the British settler.


With the turn of the new century the general prosperity that accompanied the world-wide rise of prices was reflected in a great wave of development that swept over the entire North-West. The rich wheat lands of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the discovery of the vast deposits of coal in Alberta, began to attract settlers by thousands every year from every land in the Old and New Worlds. The tide of immigration was followed by a great influx of capital. The population of Alberta grew from 73,021 in 1901, to 184,412 in 1906, to 385,000 in 1911, to 496,000 in 1916, and to 588,454 in 1921.

The statistics of the population throw many instructive side lights on the history of the Province. The remaining part of this chapter will be devoted to a few elementary statistics gleaned from the Census Reports of the Dominion Government.

The first census of the North West Territories was taken in 1881. The population at that time comprised 6,000 whites, and 50,000 natives (Indians and half-bloods). The population of that part of the Territories now included in the Province of Alberta was 18,075. Since that time a census has been taken every ten years, and by the Alberta Act, 1905, a census must be taken in the middle of every decennial period until the population reaches 2,000,000. This is due to the fact that the Provincial subsidy is paid partly on a per capita basis; hence the necessity of ascertaining the population at frequent periods. Pursuant to this law, a census has been taken in 1906, in 1911, in 1916, and in 1921.

The table next below deals with the number of families and sex of the population at different census periods:

The rapid increase in the population of Alberta is due principally to immigration. According to the census of 1916 there were only 125,603 persons resident in the Province at that date who were born in the Province. Since the formation of the Province, Alberta has drawn a larger immigration than any of the other Prairie Provinces, as the following returns will indicate:

Fears have been expressed at various times by men of affairs and publicists that there is a danger of foreign immigration swamping the native born and destroying the distinctive character of Canadian laws and institutions. Up to the present time such fears are groundless. There is enough Anglo-Saxon blood in Alberta to dilute the foreign blood and complete the process of assimilation to the mutual advantage of both elements. The census of 1916 and the census of 1921 show in a general way the ethnological groups that are fusing to produce a rich and virile nationality in Alberta, as is true throughout the entire West.

The distribution of the population in rural and urban communities shows that the cities are growing relatively faster than the rural areas as the subjoined table will show:

The Principal religions are shown in the following table. The census of 1921 showed 64 distinct religions besides 1,615 persons belonging to unspecified sects. The Presbyterians stand first with 120,868 members and adherents. Then follow in order Anglicans, 98,395; Roman Catholics, 97,178; Methodists, 89,070; Lutherans, 60,573; Greek Church, 35,815; Baptists, 27,829; Mormons, 11,373.


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